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Like some of you reading this, I am just back from the Distoy trade show event in London. This show is focused on giving Toy distributors the opportunity to select products from other markets and gives those Toy companies who run their own product development programs the opportunity to show final production products after showing prototypes /work in progress at toy fairs previously.

The Distoy show started in the noughties, when some of the UK’s biggest and most established Toy companies came together to instigate the creation of the show to allow them to efficiently preview to their overseas distributors. At one-point Distoy was almost a secret, with attendance by invitation only. I was running an SME Toy & Game business back in the noughties, and I distinctly remember hanging around the location hoping to access some of the distributors visiting the event.

For several years now though, Distoy has been an open show and one which has grown and grown over time (at least up until Covid hit). As per usual there are some dissenters & moaners about Distoy. To summarise the grumbles I have heard in short:

1. Do we really need another Toy trade show.?

2. Why don’t we go somewhere else instead i.e. L.A. ?

3. The location is expensive, why isn’t it somewhere cheaper?

4. The two hotels used as venues are both expensive and at the same time run down.

5. The lifts (elevators) are limited in number and take too long to travel up and downstairs between showrooms and back down to the foyer.

6. There is not enough open networking opportunity, especially for newer people in the industry.

I’m now going to try to answer those questions:

1. Do we really need another Toy trade show.?

Distoy is a great opportunity to meet international and especially European Toy distributors at the point of the cycle when you have finished products and when your distributors are looking at product selections for the following year.

2. Why don’t we go somewhere else instead i.e. L.A. ?

That is of course an opportunity, but it’s hardly close to Europe, and is no cheaper, it also takes longer requiring more staff time & cost.

3. The location is expensive, why isn’t it somewhere cheaper?

I would agree that the location is expensive, but it is well located for people flying into London and those travelling to the show from elsewhere in the UK. And it isn’t that expensive a show to exhibit at compared with some other trade shows.

4. The two hotels used as venues are both expensive and at the same time run down.

I understand this point - these two hotels have done very well to retain the Distoy business in my opinion. The St. James Court in particular is looking very weathered in parts, despite some new decoration & flooring replacements, other parts of the hotel are in a poor condition…but we aren’t a hotel booking industry, we’re in the Toy trade and the product speaks for itself regardless. I see this as a complaint, not as a barrier to conducting good business.

5. The lifts (elevators) are limited in number and take too long to travel up and downstairs between showrooms and back down to the foyer.

Perhaps we could all benefit from using the stairs and using some of the excess energy we imbibe in both liquid and solid form at these shows! Either way it isn’t as bad as the old Toy building in New York – I remember walking 10 to 15 stories in between meetings back in the day.

6. There is not enough open networking opportunity, especially for newer people in the industry.

Again, I understand this point. I would like to see in particular some more organised events to help new entrants to the industry network with established industry players, as the learnings available from those types of interactions are highly valuable for newcomers. For the established people staying in touch with newness is also valuable to avoid becoming set in your ways. But regardless of this point, there are plenty of networking opportunities around Distoy, and I found no difficulty in findings opportunities to hang out with other Toy & Game people outside of official show hours.


So, the traditional Toy trade show calendar has been disrupted considerably, and the break in play that Covid delivered has in some ways allowed the industry to reassess and redefine what trade shows should be conducted when. Every trade show has always had detractors:

- New York – too late.

- Spielwarenmesse in Nuremberg – too cold and too long.

- UK too small/is it worth it?

- Hong Kong – too far, too expensive, too soon after Christmas, do enough buyers visit post-Covid?

- Distoy – as per above!

I could go on and on, but the reality is that there are negative things about everything in life and business. Trade shows are hard work and do cost money and do take up time for many people in your organisation…

…BUT, these shows offer an opportunity to grab some time with your customers and partners. I don’t know any Toy or Game company who doesn’t benefit from increased interaction with their customers. Having worked with and for both corporate giants, startups and everything in between, I can’t think of any company I know who wouldn’t benefit from more time face to face with the people who buy the products we invest so much in developing.

Larger companies have so many ongoing points and issues with retailers on an ongoing basis that a quick hello and chat can often defuse some of the simpler matters which can blow up if dealt with remotely or left to coast along. Big companies also have the challenge of having to preview extensive product lines across multiple categories to multiple buyers within the same retail business. It can take a few ‘impressions’ to ensure customers have fully absorbed all the new products on offer and understood which skus will get the most marketing support and which products are ‘must list’ items.

Smaller companies tend to get a different result from Toy trade shows – they tend to get comparatively little presence in front of retailers and distributors, and as such they benefit most from the ‘speed dating ‘ format of most trade shows. An over worked Buyer can quickly tick off a lot of smaller suppliers in an hour or two towards the end of Toy fair. I know from experience how valuable these quick meetings can be for up and coming companies – nearly all of the major customers we brought on board came due top a quick topline meeting at a trade show.

For people running businesses which are partners to or are supporting actors in the business (like my own business!), trade shows are a golden opportunity to quickly say hello and get or share updates with clients. While Toy & Game companies would not choose to incur significant costs to meet with the likes of myself, they nevertheless do benefit from a quick intense period of pressing the flesh.


All trade shows offer their own unique opportunities. Let’s quickly run through a few of them:

- Los Angeles vs NYC

I’ve read and heard a lot on this. Yes, it is inefficient and frankly a bit painful to have to attend shows on opposite coasts of the U.S. in short order. However, if there was ever a Toy market which could easily justify two shows in terms of size of opportunity and geographical breadth it would certainly be the U.S.A. Some business may prefer to do just one of these shows, but to maximise opportunities in the world’s biggest Toy market (by a long way) both are going to be imperative in my opinion.

- L.A. vs Distoy – the earlier Los Angeles gathering has been contrasted with Distoy, but I am not aware of a mass exodus of international customers to the L.A. show. I can completely understand why it makes sense for the U.S. toy business, or for those trying to break into or expand in the U.S. market from overseas to want to be at this earlier L.A. show, but in just the same way as Dallas was not really a fully international show, I don’t see L.A. becoming THE place to go versus Distoy & other shows. As one well known Spanish Toy company told me this week at Distoy, going all the way to L.A. for nearly a month versus two quick and easy days at Distoy hardly makes sense.

- LA/NYC vs HK – I genuinely think that the one long term casualty of the Covid period will be the Toy showrooms along Mody Road in Hong Kong. Much as I dearly love the place, the reality is that the one trade gathering which may be hard to justify going forward is in Hong Kong, mostly because it is less clear why retailers will visit going forward. Sourcing has changed, China is still very important, but less than previously, and Toys are now being produced all over the world. So, the question then becomes why retailers need to be in HK quite like they used to. There is no doubt mind you that China and Hong Kong will continue to be key players in the global Toy business – there is just too much expertise and capability, which we as an industry desperately need to retain, but going forward the purpose and value of HK trips for retailers, and therefore Toy companies seems to be lesser. There is no doubt that visiting factories in China will continue, and the expertise in Hong Kong sourcing & development teams needs to be and will be retained, but there seems less and less reason for this gathering as part of the annual sell-in cycle going forward.


I suggest then that the bottom line here is that companies have to prioritise based on their own unique business position, priorities and budgets. The reality for most companies though should be that more trade shows will deliver better results versus less as a general rule, and so I expect Distoy to grow back to pre-Covid levels in the next couple of years, and I expect the L.A. shows to continue with some expansion. I also expect the oldest and biggest shows like the Spielwarenmesse and New York to continue to be critical.

In my opinion, the final fallout of the post-Covid trade show schedule will be a shift in importance of the LA shows versus Hong Kong, a moderate increase in international participation in the L.A. show, and a New York show better positioned for the mass market business which is so important to the Global toy trade. So, I look forward to seeing you all around these various shows and let’s embrace the opportunities on offer versus grumbling away…

And finally, if anyone has a better place to be than in front of their customers, persuading them to buy, then that other place must be pretty good!


Have you listened to the latest episodes of my PLAYING AT BUSINESS podcast:



We are living through times of massive change and disruption. Technology is advancing at a frighteningly quick rate, and the very fabric of society has been changed by our adoption and development of new technologies.

However, despite that there are 5 unchanging fundamentals of the Toy & Games business. In this podcast we take a look at these fundamentals that have not changed for decades and are unlikely to change in the coming decades despite the huge technological change we have seen and are yet to experience.


There are some recurring characteristics of bestselling Toys & Games. In this episode we run through the 5 most important features. This is not so much creative inspiration as it is a checklist for new Toy & Games products in development.


Regardless of which country is your home market, the opportunity outside your borders is this episode we take a look at some simple ways to significantly increase your export sales of Toys & Games.


For over a decade, my company has been helping Toy & Games companies get ahead. If you want to find out more about my Toy & Game business consultancy services, please just click the link below. We have helped hundreds of Toy & Game companies to get ahead and grow sales/make more profit. I have worked on all product categories across a 20+ year career in Toys & Games, and genuinely love sharing knowledge, contacts and facilitating greater success for our clients. For more information on our services, click here:

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